Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Fragrance in Skincare Products – Bad for Your Skin? November 23, 2010


Anyone who has read my blog since I started it might have noticed that I have a love-hate relationship with Paula Begoun.  See my previous post for more details.

If you read Paula Begoun’s books, beauty bulletins, or product reviews you will find one thing pops up over and over – Begoun thinks that fragrance in skincare products is wrong for the most part and even bad, very bad.  As a matter of fact in a recent beauty bulletin of hers Begoun makes the following statements about fragrance in skincare products:

Whether the fragrance in the product is natural or synthetic, it is almost always a problem for skin.

The way most fragrance ingredients impart scent is through a volatile reaction, which almost always causes irritation and some amount of inflammation. Research has established that fragrances in skin-care products are among the most common cause of sensitizing and allergic reactions.

You might be thinking, well my skin doesn’t look irritated or inflamed so the fragrance must not be a problem. In reality, skin on the surface often keeps the fact that it’s being irritated a secret with no reaction at all. Below the surface, irritating ingredients can cause collagen to breakdown, get in the way of skin’s ability to fight environmental damage, and hamper skin’s ability to heal. All of this can be taking place in the lower layers of skin without any obvious signs on the surface! The irritant reaction you don’t see or feel is nonetheless hurting your skin’s ability to reduce wrinkles, firm skin, or look younger!

For those with sensitive skin, especially when the problem is rosacea or acne, fragrance can be seriously irritating and that will show up on the surface. Fragrance of any kind (including natural fragrant oils) should be avoided at all costs.


Now the statement that Begoun makes about fragrance being irritating to those with sensitive skin or skin conditions such as rosacea is certainly true.  When I volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Look Good Feel Better program which provides free skincare and make-up lessons to women undergoing cancer treatment I always mention to the participants that while they are having treatment they need to avoid products with fragrance in them since fragrance may be irritating to their skin.  Certainly there is scientific proof that fragrance is a common allergen (and I should point out so are some preservatives) that can cause the protective outermost layer of the skin to break down and weaken thus leading to skin looking red and feeling itchy.  Additionally, then the skin stops protecting as it should.

As for Begoun’s statement that fragrance in skincare products leads to skin aging I wanted to investigate this further.  I have a small library of skincare books at home so I looked in three of the books I have by leading dermatologists and could find no back-up proof at all for Begoun’s statements about fragrance aging the skin.  All the dermatologists agree that people with sensitive skin should avoid products (including laundry soaps and fabric softeners) with fragrance, but I couldn’t find one word in any of my books about fragrance in skincare products leading to skin aging.  Now I should point out that even Begoun doesn’t think that every fragrance is evil.  She clearly states in her article what fragrance ingredients should be avoided.  I found it strange that in this article about how fragrance can damage the skin Begoun does not quote her sources.  One of the reasons I like Paula Begoun and her team is the fact that they always reveal their sources so you know where they are getting their information from.

So in my opinion, yes, if your skin is sensitive or sensitized (because of treatment you may be undergoing) it is important to avoid fragrance in skincare products and even in laundry detergents.  But buyer beware.  While it might seem easy to find such products because all you need to do is look for the words “fragrance free” or “for sensitive skin” on the label of the product please be aware that these are terms that are not regulated by any sort of organization or by the government.  It is best to check the labels yourself and that is when Begoun’s list of fragrance ingredients to avoid comes in handy.

The books I looked in were as follows:


If someone can quote a source or shed some light on the issue of fragrance causing skin aging please comment below.  Thanks!


5 Responses to “Fragrance in Skincare Products – Bad for Your Skin?”

  1. Mitch Says:

    First off I’d like to say that I found your blog a few weeks ago and think its a great source of information 🙂 That and your writing style is great!

    I was wondering if you’d heard of the website: ? otherwise known as Skin Deep. It’s a database of products broken down by their ingredients (and level of toxicity). I think you’ll find it very interesting.

    All the best,


  2. Mayo Says:

    Since everyone’s skin is different – and personal preferences on products come into play – it’s good to read as many unbiased reviews of skin care products as possible.

    Here’s a page with reviews of organic skin care products, based on the experiences and findings of members of a test panel.

  3. Nina Says:

    To put this simply, frangerances do affect aging of the skin. Frangerances are an irritant, an irritant will stress the skin. Stress leads to accelerated aging. It only makes sense. Frangerances also can contain toxins, toxins accelerate aging. Frangerances can cause sensitivity, and alleviate skin disorders such as rosacea, and sensitivity & irritation of these disorders can cause broken capillaries, and broken capillaries are a sign of aging. ……

  4. […]  but fragrance is known to be an irritant which can cause not only allergic reactions but also collagen to breakdown over time, it could effect how your skin heals to everyday environmental damages and unfortunately […]

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